Precious Metal Clay
Precious Metal Clay (PMC®) is an exciting material for artists, jewelers, and artisans in a variety of settings. Metal clay combines small particles of gold, silver, copper, or bronze with a clay-like binder and water. The resulting material can be used to make jewelry as easily as shaping polymer clay. Artisans, jewelers, and metalsmiths can shape the material by hand, sculpt it with a variety of tools or molds, and allow the piece to dry. Once the jewelry is dried, the piece is fired burning away the binder and leaving behind the pure metal.
The Mitsubishi Materials Corporation of Japan introduced Precious Metal Clay in the early 1990s. Once PMC was introduced into the US in 1996, artisans interested in making gold and silver jewelry quickly realized the potential to use the new material without the investment of years of training and expense that traditional metalsmithing entailed. Instead of a large expense in materials, years of training and apprenticeship associated with traditional metalsmithing, PCM is a material well suited to self-taught artisans and individual craft artists wanting to produce quality jewelry within a few days using simple tools and a kiln. The ease and simplicity of learning the basic techniques involved in working with PMC products allows artisans to work in small studios, workshops or even at home from their kitchen table and produce pure silver and gold jewelry.
There are several different PMC products and the firing methods depend on the products you select. PMC can be hallmarked after firing as fine silver or 22K gold. PMC products can be combined with glass, stones, gemstones, and more to make true one-of a kind pieces. While there are several brands of precious metal clay products, you should carefully read product labels. Precious metal clay shrinks after firing anywhere from 8-30% depending on the type of clay you purchase. Some products are sold by weight including the binders while the original PMC® brand is sold by weight of the actual precious metal (not the metal and binders) this means when you purchase PMC brand clay you get the grams of precious metal you see on the label after firing.
Many art supply stores, online art supply resources, and crafts supply stores now carry a good variety of precious metal clay products, beginners kits, instruction booklets, videos, as well as the tools and materials you need to easily begin making gold and silver jewelry. Local craft stores, junior colleges, and other educational venues offer workshops to help you get started. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the basic tools needed are things you already have around the house, especially if you have done other craft projects. The only true specialty items you may need are a kiln or other means to burn off the binders depending on the type of clay you purchase. Finishing tools and materials will depend on the types of jewelry and projects that you have planned.
Some items that may help you design interesting forms and textures could include molds, blocks, textured material to stamp designs and textures into the clay before firing, and cork clay. By making a form with cork clay and coating the cork clay with precious metal clay before firing, you can create hollow jewelry items keeping your final piece lightweight and conserving your more expensive precious metal clay. It is important to allow cork clay to dry completely before coating with PMC. Always completely dry PMC jewelry items before firing as excessive moisture can damage the surface of your final piece. Firing can be done in a traditional kiln or any method that can sustain the required temperatures for the times indicated by the clay manufacturer. Firing times do vary so be certain to consult recommended firing temperatures and times that are included with your clay.
There is a growing community of artisans using PMC products for jewelry and other projects. To learn more about precious metal clays and how you can get started in creating gold and silver jewelry consult the following links for resources, supplies, tips, and organizations.
Alan Bernau Jr